Facts in Two Cases Cited by 'Stand Your Ground' Opponents Don't Hold Up
In Jacksonville, Florida this past Saturday, hundreds marched in the streets shouting, "No justice, no peace!"as part of Al Sharpton's call for 100 cities to demonstrate for Trayvon Martin. Speakers in downtown's Hemming Plaza also railed against Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, and brought up two other Jacksonville cases that are frequently cited by opponents of that law: the cases of Marissa Alexander and Jordan Davis.
In reality, however, neither case actually provides a good argument agains the Stand Your Ground law. Despite their frequent mentions, both cases have been presented in a distorted, sometimes blatantly false manner reminiscent of the worst media malpractice in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman stories.
Both the Alexander and Davis cases are receiving major national press attention, and are becoming very well known cause célèbres on the left. For example, the Los Angeles Times recently published an article entitled "Marissa Alexander case emerges as symbol after Zimmerman verdict"; likewise, the infamous 'Bomber' issue of Rolling Stone includes a piece about Jordan Davis entitled "A Most American Way to Die" with the subtitle: "If you're an unarmed black teen in Florida, someone can gun you down--and they might get away with it."
Both the Alexander and Jordan cases have also been cited frequently in protests across the country. In Jacksonville on Saturday, a speaker told the crowd about Marissa Alexander:
Marissa was abused the whole time during her pregnancy. She also had a restraining order against her husband. After she had her baby, she had fired warning shots towards her husband. They told Marissa that she could not use self-defense. She not only had to defend herself, but she also had another life that she had to defend. Zimmerman only had to defend one person. Marissa never went to jail a day in her life. They gave her twenty-two years. Twenty-two years! Twenty-two years, y'all! Twenty-two years! She has never been to jail in her life. She had a restraining order against him. So you're telling me that someone that's protecting two people gets twenty-two years and someone that's the neighborhood watch gets not guilty? Is it right? (Crowds yells No!) Is it right? (No!) Is it right? (No!) Is it right? (No!) Is it right? (No!) Is it right? (No!)...
Is the story told to the crowd correct? No!
There are so many inaccuracies that it is tough to know where to begin--so let's start with what is true. Marissa Alexander is a black woman from Jacksonville who was repeatedly abused by her husband Rico Gray. Despite being the victim in the shooting incident, Gray is a decidedly unsympathetic figure. In fact, as much as both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin have had their names dragged through the media mud, there really should be a special place in media hell for the likes of Mr. Gray. As the Florida Star Online reported:
Evidence taken during a November 2010 deposition show Marissa Alexander’s husband Rico Gray bragging about his relationship with women “I got five baby mammas, and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one,” Rico Gray confessed. Gray stated “The way I was with women they had to walk on eggshells around me.” He talks about punching women in the face, shoving and choking them. Gray has been arrested twice for domestic battery; one of the arrests was for an assault that sent Alexander to the hospital.
That Rico Gray was still walking the streets reflects a serious hole in our criminal justice system. Although Grey had beaten Marissa Alexander once when she was pregnant, she was not, in fact, pregnant on the morning of the shooting incident, as the speaker told the crowd. The Florida Star Online noted:
In September 2009, Ms. Alexander obtained a protective order against Gray that was still in effect on Aug. 1, 2010, when he flew into a jealous rage while going through her cell phone, discovering that she had sent pictures of their newborn daughter to her first husband. Alexander was in the master bathroom at the time, and Gray tried to force his way in. When she came out, he screamed and cursed at her while preventing her from leaving the bedroom. “I was like forcing her back with my body,” said Gray…
When Alexander managed to get by, she ran through the kitchen to the garage, where she said she realized she did not have the keys to her car, could not call for help because she had left her cell phone behind, and could not escape because the garage door was not working. Instead she grabbed her gun from her car and headed back through the kitchen, where Gray confronted her again.
The fact that Alexander went to the garage to get her gun and came back hurt her self-defense claim. Further, police said they found no evidence that the garage door was not working, which meant that Alexander had a chance to flee. Gray was in the house with two of his children with him. The Los Angeles Times reports:
[Prosecutors] said Alexander could have left her home during the argument. Instead, she got her gun from the garage and fired a shot in the direction of Rico Gray, her husband, and his two boys, 9 and 13. The 911 call Gray placed after the shooting indicated he was fleeing and scared for his life. Alexander also reportedly sought out Gray at his “safe house” a few months after the shooting and instigated a fight that left him with a bloodied eye.
What really hurt Alexander's Stand Your Ground claim, however, was that Rico Gray changed his testimony on the day of the SYG hearing. As CNN reported last year:
Alexander's attorney filed a motion for dismissal under the stand your ground law, but at that proceeding her husband changed his story. Gray said he lied during his deposition after conspiring with his wife in an effort to protect her. At the hearing, he denied threatening to kill his wife, adding, "I begged and pleaded for my life when she had the gun." The motion was denied by the judge.
The trial went badly for Alexander, according to CNN.
Alexander was offered a plea deal by Corey's office, but she opted to go to trial. A jury found Alexander guilty in 12 minutes. She is baffled why invoking the stand your ground law wasn't successful in her case.
The plea deal Alexander turned down is rarely mentioned by those who invoke the name of Marissa Alexander. Florida has mandatory sentencing for gun crimes in a statute called 10-20-Life, and that is how Alexander ended up with a twenty-year sentence; the judge had no choice. However, Alexander had rolled the dice and turned down a plea bargain that would have given her three years. As CNN reported:
Thursday, after the motion for a new trial was denied, State Attorney Angela Corey told CNN affiliate WJXT, "(We) offered to take 17 years off of the 20-year mandatory...I exercised that discretion and as late as the Friday before trial, before we were picking a jury on the following Monday, my two prosecutors were willing to let her take the three-year minimum mandatory," she said. "The internet is filled with contentions that she fired a warning shot as she was being choked. Nothing could be further from the truth."
The Jordan Davis case is another Jacksonville crime frequently mentioned by opponents of Stand Your Ground law. It is a very different case, but doesn't make a good argument against Stand Your Ground.
As News Station WPPT reported:
Davis, 17, was shot to death by Michael Dunn in November 2012.
Dunn told police that he asked Davis and three other teens, who were parked next to him at a gas station, to turn down their music. Dunn says he heard threats from the teens and saw a gun in their car. He says he feared for his own safety, and that's why he grabbed his gun and fired into the vehicle.
Police say that they found no guns inside the teens' vehicle and that Dunn fired his gun eight or nine times.
Dunn has been charged with first-degree murder in Davis' death and also faces three counts of attempted first-degree murder for shooting at the three others in the vehicle who survived. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail in a Duval County, Florida, jail. His trial is scheduled to begin on September 23.
This was a tragic shooting that seems to have happened for a stupid reason. Dunn appears clearly to have been the aggressor. There is no indication that was Dunn was injured in any way. There was no gun found at the scene, despite Dunn's claim that one of the teens flashed a shotgun. Dunn fled the scene and was arrested the next day and charged with first-degree murder, which appears to be a fitting charge given the facts.
There is no reason to think Stand Your Ground applies to the shooting of Jordan Davis. Not only is there nono clear indication that a Stand Your Ground defense would be applicable in Dunn's case, but more importantly, Dunn hasn't even actually made a Stand Your Ground claim.
Given the 10-20-Life sentencing guidelines, Dunn would be facing 25 years to life if he is convicted.
The cases of Davis and Alexander make Jacksonville one of the epicenters of the debate over Stand Your Ground. Facts are facts, but in the whipped-up political environment we're in, facts often hardly matter.
On Monday, the Obama administration announced that the President would be speaking in Jacksonville this coming Thursday. Given the President's recent statements on the Trayvon Martin case, the timing hardly seems coincidental.